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Here, you'll find recent sermons from Trinity Lutheran Church. In addition, you may find up to four prior sermons on the link below.
Jeremiah is in jail. And the armies of Babylon are at the city gates. It is a bit like July 1, 1863 at Gettysburg, or December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor, or, I suppose, March 20, 2003 in Baghdad. In other words, all hell is ready to break loose. The people of Judah are about to lose everything they hold dear: temple, king, land, homes, livelihood. Decades of mourning in exile are ahead for them.
But, did you hear Jeremiah’s words on the eve of utter destruction? “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made…I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David. In those days, Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety.”
The words sound preposterous—unbelievable!—except that they come from the mouth of the Lord God, who does not make idle promises. They are, did you notice, remarkably like the words of Jesus in today’s gospel reading, as he anticipates another destruction of the temple. He portrays cataclysmic events, really: stirring up of seas and all peoples. Even the heavens will be shaken!
But, notice that Jesus doesn’t send his hearers cowering to the storm cellars. Quite the opposite! Instead, he urges them to stand up and raise their heads because it is their redemption that draws near. Jesus calls his listeners to see through the fire and smoke to know God’s will and work: redeeming the world. What looks absolutely horrible to some, by God is gospel—good news—an occasion for hope (all appearances to the contrary!).
At the beginning of this new church year, the readings are, to put it mildly, jarring. “Black Friday” behind us, we’re on the verge of franetic December, after all! Many around us are diving right into the season of office and neighborhood parties (dissipation and drunkenness, perhaps?!). At the end of this most challenging year—financially, politically, locally-- others are searching for an easier nostalgic time of “white Christmas, like the ones we used to know.” Even a lot of regular church-goers strain to look back 2,000 years to a quiet hillside in Bethlehem, to a scene fit…for a greeting card.
But these readings today and throughout Advent, point us in a different direction: forward, to the future. They bring to us a promise of change: a call to repentance and hope for redemption. They picture (get this!) a new heaven and a new earth.
We love to sing, “O come, O Come, Emmanuel.” But are we ready for what his arrival means? The Messiah intends to set right what’s wrong, as God counts it.
The Prince of Peace will at last put an end to war between nations and people. Christ’s justice will see that no one lacks what they need; neither will any be consumed by what they have. The dividing walls that separate us form God and from each other will be no more. All creation will be re-done. That includes you and me! Jesus calls this the good news—the gospel—of our ‘redemption.’
Theologian John Howard Yoder says that the word ‘gospel’ is one of the most misunderstood religious terms. We use it to describe a kind of music, for example. It’s even got a place on the charts! Or, it refers to certain religious teachings, four books in the Bible, in particular. Some see ‘gospel’ in very personal terms, as a ticket to heaven.
But Yoder says that ‘gospel’ is a word of revolution, of world-changing news. “The war is won! Peace is declared! A child is born!” Nothing will ever be the same again. The song of the angels declares it: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.”
More than the sentiment of Hallmark cards, gospel is news for the Reading Eagle: All heaven breaks loose! God interrupts ‘life as usual’ and inserts himself into our very midst. ‘History’ becomes ‘his story’—the life-changing word of God’s unquenchable love.
As you and I go about the tasks of this Advent season: decorating, buying, baking, buying, card-sending, buying, and—yes--partying, I think we need to be very careful not to smother that good news with all the glitz and the gifts and the hoopla.
“Stir up your power, O Lord, and come!” That’s been the opening Advent prayer for a great many centuries. God’s promises are about stirring up heaven and earth: economics, politics, societies and individuals will be made new by God’s righteousness and God’s justice.
Understand that Jesus did not just come ‘long ago and far away’ in Bethlehem. He comes here and now as risen Lord. In word and bread and cup he comes, not to affirm us, not to make us feel good, but to change us more and more into his holy and life-blessing image. He comes to make us into his body on earth, so that our lives and ministries can show the world signs of his in-breaking kingdom, of what is yet to be by his grace.
The church is a down-payment of God’s coming day, when there will be no more sorrow or crying or war or oppression or want. Jesus calls us—makes us—to be people of that promise, alive and at work in a world in such need of redemption.
The ‘bad news’ of this past week told us of on—going carnage in Iraq, of frightful uncertainty in Afghanistan, of mounting national debt and city deficit. We read of rising crime rates locally, increasing swine flu deaths nationally, and of global warming in the Arctic (pity the poor polar bears.) Such is the reality of the world, but—now hear this!—it is not the last word. While the forces of armies and nations, of greed and crime, of oppression and despair are to be reckoned with, they are not the powers that will ultimately determine us. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” promises Jesus, “but my words will not!”
His word—his gospel—is the only news worth building our lives on. Last week, we heard Herod in John’s gospel asking, “What is truth?” The Greek word there was aletheia. This new church year brings Luke into focus. And he begins his gospel with a different word for truth. It is aspahlite, the root of ‘asphalt.’ The gospel truth, is a hard, strong, reliable, enduring foundation on which to build and on which to travel.
“Show me your ways,” sings the Psalmist. “Teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, O God of my salvation.”
We tend to think of Advent as a season of ‘waiting.’ But it’s more than that. Waiting can have a passive, lazy sense about it, like waiting for a bus or in line at the check- out counter. Waiting can be borning, mind-numbing, wasted time.
Better, I think, is the word “esperar” in Spanish. It means both waiting and hoping, with the sense of leaning forward, longing in anticipation. Esperar is active preparation: for the meal to be ready, for the house to be finished, for the baby to be born. Esperar reminds us that, because we belong to Jesus, there’s lots to do in his name.
Esperando is the kind of waiting that you and I in faith are to be about: shaping our lives by what’s to come—‘surely coming!’--readying ourselves for it, knowing that however God has his way, it will be for good, truly good, for us and all the world. So you and I can dare to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!” and mean it.
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